1916-1925: America– War and Peace

Author: Gregory Mason  | Date: 1918

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The Allies in the Rhineland

TO disturb existing conditions as little as possible when compatible with the best interest of the general public is the principle which guides the Allies in governing the portions of German territory occupied by their troops under the terms of the Armistice. The known admiration of the Germans for intelligence in the adoption of rules and consistency in the application of them has made the Allies proceed very carefully. It would not do, they think, to issue an ordinance in haste and then be obliged to ignore or change its application, for that would mean to lose face before the people they are governing, so potent is the German reputation for the love of logic and efficiency.

Whether the territory occupied is held by French, British, Belgian or American troops, the administration of it is essentially an inter-Allied matter. Local commanders are allowed a good deal of discretion, but all general principles are determined by reference to an inter-Allied military commission or to Marshal Foch, as the head of the military forces of the Allies. Hence there is a great similarity in the way different sections of occupied Germany are administered, whether they are actually held by French, British, Belgian or Americans. This unity of control is just as valuable in the administration of quasi-conquered territory as it was valuable in the actual prosecution of battles. For instance, the intention is to make the administration of this territory as humane as possible. The Belgians wanted to apply to the Germans the same harsh regulations which the Germans had used on them, but the inter-Allied directorate wisely blocked Belgium’s natural desire to have "an eye for an eye."

This whole work of occupation goes through three phases: first, military occupation; second, the seizure of the means of administration; and, third, economic treatment of the occupied regions.

The military occupation is essentially police work. By whatsoever troops, it is performed in pursuance of rules laid down by Marshal Foch. It has followed the same military zones into which the Germans divided the territory now occupied by the Allies. If Marshal Foch gave the word, the Allied army could advance instantly deep into Germany.

Marshal Foch’s police rules are strict but not harsh. They are aimed to protect the people of the occupied zones, and they are softened everywhere as soon as the conduct of the natives justifies such relaxation. For instance, one of the first general rules in all the occupied zones was that the inhabitants must remain indoors from eight o’clock in the evening until six o’clock in the morning, but local commanders were given authority to relax it as they saw fit. When I was in Coblenz, the Americans had already allowed the people an extra hour on the streets in the evening, and at Kaiserlauten the French had postponed curfew until half-past ten. The German gendarmerie is purely local in all the occupied zones, and much use has been made of it. Wherever there were German army officers in positions of responsibility in the gendarmerie, they were removed, the Allied policy being generally to trust local functionaries and to leave them in office whenever they can be used, but to dismiss all officials who were appointed by Berlin.

At first all use of telephones was forbidden to the inhabitants who occupied towns, but this rule has been relaxed also. In the French zone the natives are allowed telephone calls within their own city; while in Coblenz the Americans allow this and also permit the use of five trunk lines from the occupied territory into Germany proper. Thus a German in Coblenz may talk directly to a German in Berlin. Except in cases of extreme personal necessity, all such calls are supposed to be confined to the transaction of important business, and of course American army censors "listen in" on every call. This privilege was given to the Germans of Coblenz because it was found that the sudden and complete interruption of contact between the two banks of the Rhine caused a great deal of inconvenience and suffering.

The control of mails, like the control of telephones, has been relaxed somewhat already where it seemed safe to do so, and a restricted amount of business correspondence is permitted between the left and right banks of the Rhine. But there has been no softening of the regulations in regard to the press and public meetings. A strict censorship against anti-Ally or pro-Bolshevist articles in the press is maintained, and no public meetings of any kind are tolerated without the permission of the local commandant, the sole exception being in the case of the German churches, which are allowed to hold services as usual. As a matter of fact, through the churches the Germans might carry on not a little propaganda, because the Allies are not so attentive to the utterances of preachers as they might be. But it is doubtful if they are hurting themselves much by this laxity. Indeed, a policy of broad toleration toward the German churches is probably wise. One of the elements most bitter against the French, in particular, has been the German Catholic clergy, who have distrusted the French because of the fame of French liberalism in religious matters and the separation of Church and State in France. In fact, many German Catholic clergymen apparently have thought that all Frenchmen were pagans, and already their press is beginning to express their astonishment at learning that such is not the case.

In approaching the problem of the civil administration of occupied Germany the Allies have, so far as practicable, made use of the existing German civil machinery of government.

The proper judicial and economic measures for occupied Germany are being worked out very carefully. The French are using a number of special technical advisers—French professors, manufacturers, etc. These men are working in commissions appointed to study particular subjects, and are also advising France on what her national economic policy ought to be. Special French economic commissions are with both the Eighth and Tenth French Armies, and are cooperating with a German economic commission. Subdivisions of these commissions are being established at sub-centers throughout the occupied zones.

A good deal of confusion has been caused by the sudden severance of relations between the left and the right banks of the Rhine. For instance, the Court of Appeal for Mayence is at Leipzig, which is outside of the zone of occupation. Therefore the French are arranging to have a special Court of Appeal created to meet this need. Similarly, some of the ecclesiastical authorities for churches on the left bank of the Rhine live on the right bank, and the Armistice has thus interrupted German church routine.

That part of the left bank which is held by the French is an industrial district whose chief products are coal and coke, and which produces little of its own food. Deprive this region of transportation and it would starve. The French, therefore, are not only sending in food by army truck trains, but are extending railways and Rhine shipping. This region needs raw materials. The French allow these to be brought across the river from Germany, but they are very careful what they allow to go into Germany from the left bank. All applications for the right to ship goods eastward across the river have to be submitted to an inter-Allied commission, and no manufactured articles are permitted to be bought from Germany proper if the same things can be obtained from Belgium or France.

Politics on the left bank of the Rhine are very amusing. The people have no such strong national feeling as the North Germans. This is partly because of a natural provincialism, and partly the result of history. Remember that all the country up to the Rhine was French for a time under Napoleon I., and that some of the country around Saarlouis and Saarbruck was French for a considerable period. Consequently the thought of being parted from the German Empire is not such a shock to the people of these southern towns as it would be to the people of northern Germany.

It was the Ebert Government with which the Allies concluded the Armistice. They have therefore properly refused to deal with any other Government in Germany. They have disbanded the soviets wherever they have found them and they are not aware that the native population has felt much injured thereby. Before the Allies came into full control various hasty laws were passed by various local German governments. These are disregarded by the Allies, and of the laws and general decrees of the old Imperial Government only those are kept in force which are specifically approved by Foch.

The people of the left bank are waiting on events. They are ready to jump either way. The inhabitants of Saarbruck elected two sets of delegates to the Constituent Assembly. They elected conservative Clerical delegates to represent them in case the French should stay in occupation of their city, and they elected men from the Spartacus or extreme radical wing of Socialism to represent them in case the French should withdraw.

The whole Allied administration of the occupied zones is based on dignity, firmness, and a refusal to fraternize (theoretically at least), coupled with a regard for the best interests of the inhabitants. In fact, so light is the heel of the conqueror on their necks that some Germans do not believe that the Allies are conquerors at all.


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Chicago: Gregory Mason, "The Allies in the Rhineland," 1916-1925: America– War and Peace in America, Vol.12, Pp.193-199 Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=B4ZY7DVLQYLZMWU.

MLA: Mason, Gregory. "The Allies in the Rhineland." 1916-1925: America– War and Peace, in America, Vol.12, Pp.193-199, Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=B4ZY7DVLQYLZMWU.

Harvard: Mason, G, 'The Allies in the Rhineland' in 1916-1925: America– War and Peace. cited in , America, Vol.12, Pp.193-199. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=B4ZY7DVLQYLZMWU.